A preview of the results of the homeopathy survey

Water dropYou may remember that last month some homeopaths posted a somewhat mysterious survey up on surveymonkey.com, possibly in an attempt to get some sympathetic data. Of course, skeptics picked up on this and crashed the survey. I had a feeling that this would cause the homeopaths to abandon the survey (which is now closed), so I decided to register for surveymonkey.com myself and copy it. I promised to release the results this month.

Before I continue, I should say that surveymonkey.com are pretty cheeky monkeys! You can look at the first 100 responses of a survey for free, but anything more than that costs money. Not a prohibitively large amount of money mind, but enough. Also, as I type this there are currently 864 responses, I’d love to see it hit 1,000 soon! So, in the meantime I thought I’d look at data from the first 100 responses.

Not surprisingly, the data from these first 100 responses has a distinctively skeptical flavour. Bear in mind that this is a survey, so the most you can take from it is a measure of public opinion and not scientific conclusions! Let’s take a look at the questions and answers.

1. Do you know what Homeopathy is?

An overwhelming 96% of respondents answered this question with “yes”. This at least shows that people answering the questions think they know what they are talking about!

2. If you had a health concern, would you consider supplementing conventional medicine with alternative medicine such as Homeopathy?

I suppose this is the question that tells you what people really think of homeopathy and 93.9% answered this with “no” (one person skipped the question). So, at the early stages of the survey, I think it’s pretty save to say that the majority of respondents were not homeopathy sympathisers!

3. Have you ever taken a Homeopathic Remedy?

Now is where it gets a little interesting. 47.4% of people responded “yes”. Perhaps these people took homeopathy at a 10:23 event? Maybe they tried homeopathy and found it to be ineffective?

4. Qualified Homeopaths are no longer permitted to explain how Homeopathy works or offer any evidence on their websites because of a ruling by the Advertising Standards Agency. Do you think Homeopaths should be allowed to explain how Homeopathy works?

This is a fairly bizarre question, because the overwhelming scientific consensus is that homeopathy does not work, so how can you explain a phenomenon that isn’t present in the first place? Surprisingly (and bear in mind how many people said that they would not consider taking homeopathy as a complementary medicine) 43% of respondents answered “yes”. Fortunately, this is the first question where people are allowed to expand on their answers, and these answers reveal some interesting logic.

I think they should be required to explain how it is supposed to work and how stupid it is.

Actually, I thoroughly enjoy watching homeopaths try to explain how homeopathy works. You can’t invent that kind of comedy.

Yes because once you know you realise you should just take a sugar pill but make sure that someone else gives it to you telling you it will make you better. Will work just as well.

These answers seem to be suggesting that homeopaths should be allowed to try and explain how homeopathy works so that their patients can judge how silly it is. I’m not sure that I agree with that! Others argued on a freedom of speech level:

If homeopathy is going to exist, its practitioners should be able to explain it. Censoring information isn’t a way to effect worthwhile change — and as it is in every health food store where vitamins can’t list the conditions they treat, people will step in and tell you. This is a really terrible idea if the point is to help consumers understand their options.

5. Qualified Homeopaths are no longer allowed to state which medical conditions they treat. If you visited a Homeopaths website, would you find it useful or not useful to know which conditions they can treat?

This is in a similar vein to the last question. The science says that homeopaths can’t treat anything (unless you count the placebo effect), yet 33% of respondents said that it would be useful to know which conditions homeopaths can treat. A few people wanted the homeopaths to be honest:

They can treat the diseases which can be treated with placebos. If they said that, at least pacients would know they are not supposed to try to get rid of their cancer with Homeopathy, for example

I would find it very useful, if homeopaths would have to state, what they really can treat. According to a lot of scientific research it’s just nothing, and that has to be stated!

Since the answer is nothing, they should state that.

It would be nice to see a homeopath’s website where you click on “Conditions which can be treated with homeopathy” and get a blank page!

6. Qualified Homeopaths are no longer allowed to give testimonials from genuine patients if those patients want to state that their health has improved as a result of homeopathy. (Testimonials means comments only from verifiable, genuine patients) Do you think testimonials giving details of improvement from genuine patients should be not allowed or allowed?

The premise of this question goes against the mantra of “the plural of anecdote is not data”. Personal anecdotes are not evidence of efficacy, and the results so far reflect this position, with 82.5% of respondents saying that homeopaths should not be allowed to give patient testimonials.

7. Why do you think Homeopaths are being treated in this way?

The final question, and most of the responses are along skeptical lines:

Because they are charlatans and the public needs to be protected

Because they are quacks. At best making money from the gullible, at worst preventing effective medical treatment of illness.

Homeopaths are treated this way because homeopathy is a pseudoscience, which should not be depicted as an alternative to actual medicine.

However, towards the end of the responses a few answers from homeopathy sympathisers crept in:

Big Pharma wants to eliminate competition.

And my favourite logical fallacy-laden answer:

In a nutshell, homeopathy is a gentle, effective and increasingly popular healing model, that poses a threat to the profits of pharmaceutical companies, who have gained the support of the media (James Murdoch on GSK’s board of governors) to push their attack on homeopathy in the hope of undermining competition. Why do the skeptics not get up in arms about the number of people treated on the NHS for negative reactions to conventional drug treatments, or the fact that meta-analysis of anti-depressants show they are no better than placebo?

As these two answers were towards the end of the first 100 responses, I have an inkling that news of the survey reached homeopathy sympathisers and that the numbers will be very different once all the responses are taken into consideration. Like I say, I’m hoping to get 1,000 responses before closing the survey, and I will make the results available on request. Please spread the word!

Take the survey